Lee Alley, a decorated veteran from the Vietnam War, had read and watched news reports about the Wyoming Veteran Commission and kept wondering there could be more done to help the veterans in the state.
Rather than be a spectator, the Wheatland resident decided to be a participant.
“I wanted to get on the commission with a mission in mind,” Alley said recently, after retiring as vice-chairman. “Twelve years ago the vet community was fractured and everybody seemed to be fighting each other. The commission looked like they had trouble getting anything done.”
Having a team-oriented mindset, Alley jumped in and began talking to community and state leaders to get on the commission. Luckily for him, there was an opening in his district, but he was a bit surprised by his first meeting.
“It was very contentious, there was times spent in the hall talking to people,” he said. “I knew there was in-fighting and issues. I was very shocked at how intense it actually was.”
After that first session, Alley put focus on getting a position in which he could affect more change and put emphasis on a unified team moving forward. Within a year he earned that position and was selected as the chairman for the commission. He set upon a new mission, to ensure the commission was working for the veterans.
“We got a new director, a new direction,” he said. The new director was a retired Wyoming Army National Guard colonel, Larry Barttelbort. “We couldn’t pick a better guy for the job.”
With that new leadership team, the commission went to work providing veteran focused support.
“Very first thing I said when I took over chairman, if you don’t have something to say that is going to help a veteran, then you are out of order,” he said. “We have a stable commission, with common goals and a common direction.”
Two significant events that have occurred under Alley’s watch were the 2015 Wyoming Vietnam Veteran Reunion event, held in Casper, and the continued efforts to get a long-term healthcare facility for veterans in the state. Wyoming is the only state without one.
“Still working on that one, and the governor’s office is completely behind that,” he said, referencing the facility and the commission’s efforts. “Not sure where that is going in the future. But that is one thing I have worked on and still have not brought into reality.”
In June 2015, the veterans commission organized a welcome home celebration and reunion for the Wyoming Vietnam War veterans. This was a first-time event and initial attendance was expected to be modest. The event ended up drawing more than estimated.
“I was absolutely blown away,” Alley said. “We started working on that four or five years ago. It was something I really wanted to do while I was on the commission. I wasn’t sure we were going to get that pulled off.”
There were obstacles in ensuring the word got out about the event, reaching as many veterans of the conflict as possible. And there was some worry that most vets wouldn’t be interested in attending. Alley was surprised, and thrilled, by the turn out.
“At the barbecue and the banquet, we fed over a 1,000 people,” he said. “The response was: ‘When is the next one?’” he added with a laugh. “It was tough to put on. If folks missed it, they knew later they missed a great event.”
The one-time reunion was a great opportunity for many Vietnam veterans, like Alley, to hear thanks and words of appreciation for their service during a war that was highly controversial. There was a parade that saw hundreds of Wyoming residents lining the route, cheering and waving American flags. Alley’s team also was able to work with local state legislative representatives and senators to get Interstate 25 renamed the Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran Highway. Signs sit at the state’s borders identifying the road.
“Every time I see that Vietnam Vet highway, I stop and tear up. My goodness, Wyoming has its own welcome home Vietnam veteran highway.”
Now retired, Alley has plans to enjoy the outdoor life and put time into his golf game. He will still be engaged with the veterans in his state, and nationwide, as he is the president of the 5/60th Infantry Battalion, 9th Infantry Division Association.
“I’m very proud of my time on the commission,” he said. “I never would have given up my seat if I didn’t feel comfortable. The guys on the commission have done a wonderful job getting the commission where it is today.”
He may not have the official title in the vets commission anymore, but he still plans to work tirelessly to help veterans in his state and nation.